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WAGNER: Ross Thatcher – Saskatchewan’s free enterprise premier – Part 2 resisting the federal Liberals’ lurch left

Pearson disliked Thatcher, “who he saw as a brash, uncompromising right-wing ideologue.”

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As mentioned in Part 1, Liberal premier Ross Thatcher of Saskatchewan was a champion of free enterprise and a staunch opponent of socialism. His career is detailed in Dale Eisler’s 1987 book, Rumours of Glory: Saskatchewan & the Thatcher Years

Not surprisingly, Thatcher’s conservative ideology put him at odds with the federal Liberal Party, which had been lurching to the left under Prime Minister Lester Pearson. According to Eisler, Pearson disliked Thatcher, “who he saw as a brash, uncompromising right-wing ideologue.”

During Pearson’s first minority government (1963-1965), the finance minister was noted left-wing Liberal MP Walter Gordon of Toronto. Thatcher strongly disliked Gordon and referred to him as “the most dangerous socialist in Canada.” Gordon responded that, “Mr. Thatcher is my idea of a prototype fascist.”

The federal Liberal Party was scheduled to hold a major national policy conference in October 1966. Eisler writes: “Fearing a shift to the left at the upcoming policy convention, Thatcher decided he needed to forge a western bloc within the party, a united voice that would carry more weight in the policy debate at the national level. Therefore, he took it upon himself to organize a policy meeting of western Liberals in August 1966, two months before the national policy conference.”

The key participants at Thatcher’s meeting were the leaders of the provincial Liberal parties of the four Western provinces. All four agreed on the need for freer trade with the US, the benefit of greater foreign investment, and the rejection of Walter Gordon’s philosophy of economic nationalism. As Thatcher put it, he wanted this conference to “shout from the rooftops that Western Liberals endorse the private enterprise system.”

The federal Liberal government was becoming increasingly unpopular in Saskatchewan during the 1960s due to its single-minded focus on Central Canada. With a provincial election approaching in 1967, the Saskatchewan Liberals wanted to distance themselves from their federal counterparts. Therefore, they changed their party colours from red and white to green and white to emphasize their separate identity.

During Thatcher’s first term, Saskatchewan’s economy did rather well. In 1966, Saskatchewan was classified as a “have” province for the purposes of equalization, a sign of economic success. Thus, the CCF-NDP was not able to successfully criticize Thatcher on economic issues during the 1967 election campaign. Instead, it attacked him as an alleged “fascist.”

In one edition of the Saskatchewan NDP weekly newspaper The Commonwealth, Eisler writes, “The headline was ‘Thatcher’s Rule by Fear,’ with an overline that stated ‘This Is Fascism.’” The article claimed “thousands of citizens” were afraid of publicly opposing Thatcher for fear of reprisal from the government.

This sort of nonsense was ineffective and Thatcher’s share of the popular vote increased as his party gained three seats in the legislature. 

However, immediately after the election, Thatcher unexpectedly raised some taxes and put “deterrent fees” on medical services to reduce healthcare costs. Many of his own Liberal MLAs were upset by the tax increases, and the NDP galvanized opposition to the deterrent fees as a “tax on the sick.” These factors, together with Thatcher’s increasingly abrasive personality, began to erode his support.

To make matters worse, a huge oversupply of wheat had developed by 1969, leading to a significant drop in prices. Western farmers were hurting bad. And with the fall of agricultural prices around the world, the demand for Saskatchewan’s potash declined sharply, causing even more trouble for the province’s economy.

It was during this time – July 1969 – when the new Liberal prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, confronted a crowd of angry farmers in Regina and asked, “Why should I sell your wheat?” Trudeau’s thoughtless comment hurt the Liberal brand in Saskatchewan even more.

With the deck stacked against him, Thatcher called an election for June 23, 1971. Not surprisingly, the NDP with a young new leader, Allan Blakeney, beat the Liberals handily.

According to Eisler, three main factors led to Thatcher’s defeat. One was his own abrasive personality and public profile. Another was his government’s policies. More importantly, though, was the unpopularity of the federal Liberal government.

By 1971, Trudeau’s Liberal government was deeply unpopular in Saskatchewan. Although Thatcher tried to distance himself from the Trudeau Liberals, people weren’t buying it. As NDP leader Allan Blakeney said repeatedly: “A Liberal is a Liberal is a Liberal.” Thatcher did not like Trudeau or his leftist policies, yet Trudeau’s unpopularity helped take him down.

A month after losing the election Thatcher died, apparently the result of complications from severe diabetes.

According to Eisler, though, Thatcher had a long-term impact on Saskatchewan politics. It was Thatcher who emphasized the only way to keep the CCF-NDP out of power was to create a free enterprise political coalition. As long as the free enterprise vote was split, the socialists would win. Eisler says this process culminated in the 1982 landslide victory of Grant Devine’s PCs. As he put it: “The coalition of anti-NDP voters Thatcher had sought had finally blossomed under the Tories.”

In short, Thatcher’s “impact on Saskatchewan politics was powerful and enduring because he proved there could be a private enterprise alternative to the NDP and that a coalition of voters existed that, if mobilized, could take power away from the NDP.” The Saskatchewan Party fills this role today.

During the 1960s, there was a leftward shift in North American politics. In the U.S., Democratic president Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society program to drastically expand the size and role of the federal government. In Canada, Liberal prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau also expanded the size and role of the federal government. 

By contrast, during the same period, Saskatchewan premier Ross Thatcher was trying to scale back government in his province and to fight for a greater emphasis on free enterprise. He deserves to be remembered and held in esteem by conservatives and libertarians in Western Canada.

Wagner is a Western Standard columnist

Michael Wagner is a Senior Alberta Columnist for the Western Standard. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. His books include 'Alberta: Separatism Then and Now' and 'True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada.' mwagner@westernstandardonline.com

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1 Comment

  1. Left Coast

    August 9, 2021 at 10:16 am

    “Gordon responded that, “Mr. Thatcher is my idea of a prototype fascist.””

    Amuzing that even in the 60s . . . far-left socialists were hurling the “Fascist” label at those they did not agree with . . . omitting of course the Fact that Fascists were socialists!

    A bio on ole Pierre that likely few Canadians have read . . .
    https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/esp_sociopol_nwo154.htm

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Opinion

MORGAN: It’s time for municipal political parties in Alberta

Conservatives had an opportunity to get a slate of small-government representatives into office and we blew it.

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The union-backed coalition of candidates in Calgary’s civic election decisively won the day. With 27 candidates running for mayor and nearly 100 candidates vying for one of 14 council seats, it was a bewildering mix of candidates for voters to choose from.

Only one candidate out of all of the races won with more than 50% of the vote. In Ward 7, the vote was so diluted, Terry Wong won the seat with only 25% support. Union endorsed candidates took nine out of 15 spots, including the mayoral chair.

The 2021 municipal election offered the largest turnover of elected positions we have seen at city hall in a generation. Conservatives had an opportunity to get a slate of small-government representatives into office and we blew it. Rather than gripe about how the union coalition took city hall, we need to learn from it. If we don’t change how we approach civic elections, left-progressives will keep winning them.

Some people have been scratching their heads over why Calgary votes so conservatively federally and provincially while so progressively when it comes to their municipal elections. The difference is the party system. Conservatives need to form a municipal political party if they want to displace the union-progressive bloc dominating Calgary’s municipal government.

Progressives may be ideologically delusional, but they aren’t stupid. They know they won’t win as many municipal seats if they actually run on a left-wing platform. They run right and govern left. Once they are in office, they can rely on incumbency and an apathetic electorate in order to retain their seats. They don’t need a large number of voters in order to keep their seats, they can simply let conservatives keep splitting the vote in future elections. That tactic kept Druh Farrell in office for 20 years despite her only winning over 50% of the vote once.

A political party will solve many of the issues leading to the chronic defeat of conservative candidates in Calgary and to some extent, Edmonton.

A political party provides for a nomination system. Prospective candidates are vetted by members in a race for the right to run. This helps expose any past scandals or other issues making candidates inappropriate for office before election time. Nomination scrutiny will test conservative credentials. It is tough for progressive candidates to slide through party scrutiny. Some contenders for office may have fantastic resumes, but be terrible campaigners or fundraisers. A nomination is a dry run and the best prospective candidates will usually rise to the top.

The vote-splitting issue will be mitigated by a single party endorsing only one candidate per ward and for the mayor. There will surely be other conservative candidates running in every race — as is their right — but when name recognition is so difficult to attain in civic politics, they won’t be able to garner more profile than a party-endorsed candidate. There were multiple progressive candidates in many of the races in the last election, but none of them outperformed the union endorsed ones with the lone exception Richard Pootmans. Again, we need to learn from them.

A political party can provide the organization and training independent candidates lack. Some conservative candidates may have had excellent credentials but simply couldn’t put a cohesive campaign team together. A candidate may have a fantastic policy set but had never actually written a press release before. Campaigning is a unique set of skills. Parties provide standardized and shared campaign training to their candidates and volunteers. A party provides a support system and it allows the candidates to focus on important elements of their campaign without getting mired in electoral details party volunteers can handle.

A party can provide uniform branding for its candidates and offer a centralized advertising strategy. The union PAC in the last election had nearly two million dollars to spend on advertising for their chosen candidates. We can’t pretend the union spending didn’t make a difference on those races. A party can advertise the brand while all of their endorsed candidates benefit. TV advertising is a huge expense and is of little benefit to individual candidates for councilor. If the advertising is focused on a shared brand through a party though, it can benefit every party candidate. Only through strong and consistent advertising will candidates be able to defeat incumbents relying on name recognition.

Funds can’t be directly given to candidates by a party but there would be great cost savings in being part of a party. Candidates will be able to get together on orders for sign and literature printing which will bring the costs down tremendously due to the scale of the orders. Campaign office space could be potentially shared and many other cost-saving collaborations between candidates can happen as they work together under one banner.

There could be pitfalls with a political party as well of course. A new party would have to ensure it’s not tied in any way to federal or provincial parties. We’ve already seen how toxic branding from other levels of government can impact elections on other levels.

In bringing a slate together under one brand, not only could all candidates rise with the party, they could fall with it. If there are party missteps or candidate scandals, it could drag down every candidate in the party.

Candidates will also have to ensure they will be beholden to their constituents first and the party second. Importantly, candidates elected to council under a party banner should be free to vote however they choose, with no party whip standing over them. It can be a fine line to walk, but it has to be done. Local government is important and electors don’t want to think their representatives won’t have the ability to use discretion on issues not gelling with the party as a whole.

The only thing worse than an official political party in an election is an unofficial political party. Public service unions have created an unofficial party and it won Calgary’s civic election. If we want to change the status-quo, we will have to change the way we have been playing the game. We need a conservative party to contest the next civic election in Calgary and we need to get on organizing it soon. Otherwise, we will continue spinning our wheels while progressive councilors trot into re-election with ease.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: The unions bought city hall

It’s a clean sweep that puts Calgary on a course for a more interventionist government for at least the next four years and, with Calgary’s tendency to re-elect municipal incumbents in perpetuity, potentially much longer.

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Jyoti Gondek is Calgary’s new mayor-elect. She largely represents a continuation of Naheed Nenshi’s purple reign that has led the city’s council and government since 2010, although there are hopeful signs that personality-wise she has less of the outgoing mayor’s Jupiter-sized ego and petulance.

Gondek’s victory means not only that Jeromy Farkas will not be the mayor, but he will no longer continue in his role as the unofficial leader of the opposition on council. The size of the conservative bloc on council may end up relatively similar to its pre-election makeup, but it’s influence will be much diminished.

In addition to Farkas, the conservative bloc lost Joe Magliocca, and while Sean Chu won the day, his scandal involving a minor in 1997 continues to deepen. CTV is reporting salacious new details that could make his continued position untenable. Chu denied the allegations in an exclusive interview with the Western Standard, but more evidence will need to be produced one way or another to determine who’s telling the truth. The jury is still very much out on this one.

Adding to the conservative bloc is Terry Wong, who replaced one of the most stridently leftist members of council, Druh Farrell, as well as Dan McLean, who unseated weather vane incumbent Diane Colley-Urquhart.

Centre-right former councillor Andre Chabot also returns to council, as does the swing vote Peter Demong (who was the only incumbent with no union candidate against him).

Taken together, the conservative bloc will likely be made up of four councillors — if Chu can hang on. If they can sway Demong, they can make up five votes, soaking wet, well short of the eight votes needed to win a majority on any given issue.

The union super-PAC (political action committee) Calgary’s Future swept the table. Their candidates took the mayor’s chair, and eight council seats, although their leftist bloc will likely be joined by the non-union endorsed Richard Pootmans. That brings the union-progressive bloc to 10 votes.

Ten union-progressives, four conservatives, and one swing. It’s a clean sweep that puts Calgary on a course for a more interventionist government for at least the next four years and, with Calgary’s tendency to re-elect municipal incumbents in perpetuity, potentially much longer.

Could Farkas have won?

It’s always an error to add up the votes of the “also ran” candidates and add them to the total of the runner up as if a party or candidate has any kind of ownership over them, but let’s just do it for the sake of the hypotheticals.

Since well before the official campaign period kicked off, Jeromy Farkas was the clear conservative standard bearer for the mayor’s chair. He led the conservative bloc on council, sometimes as a vote of one on more controversial issues. He led every poll in the race until the very end, and other centre-right(ish) candidates never came close to catching him. On election night, he polled 30% of the vote to Gondek’s 45%.

Jeff Davidson ran in the mould of a business conservative, promising a more enterprise-friendly environment, but not going to war with the city’s administration. The card-carrying Conservative polled a respectable 13% on election night.

Similarly, Brad Field ran a semi-conservative, business-friendly campaign, pulling down 5% of the vote.

Together, the 18% of the vote earned by these two candidates could theoretically have put Farkas over the top. Of course, that’s bad math. Just as federal Tories have no right to votes of the PPC, or the federal Liberals have no right to the votes of the NDP or Greens, Farkas has no inherent right to the votes of Davidson and Field. The only people with a right to someone’s vote, are voters themselves.

But it is worth asking why there were three credible centre-to-right candidates on the ballot, but only one credible left-progressive. In the absence of a municipal party system, big-money PACs have filled the void, effectively picking candidates with their war chest. On the union-progressive side, Calgary’s Future had an incredible $1.7 million to spend on its slate, effectively clearing the field of nuisance progressive candidates for clear front-runners to emerge for the mayor’s chair, and in most of the wards. Progressives like former federal Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr saw the writing on the wall soon after he declared. This effectively consolidated the vote behind a single candidate, allowing them to stand out from the pack, and in 10 of 14 races, win.

The conservative side of the fight was much less clean cut. There was no single, dominating super-PAC able to effectively bankroll a slate of candidates and clear the field. Until very late in the game, big business and the conservative establishment were hesitant to get behind Farkas. He may have been a conservative, but he was not their man. Farkas was a libertarian who hailed from the old Wildrose Party, and a protégé of Preston Manning. He opposed major corporate welfare projects often supported by much of the business community. They tended to prefer more moderate conservatives less likely to throw a hand grenade into the council chamber.

But Farkas had built up enough public profile and locked in a solid base of support before the conservative establishment could anoint their own candidate. As reported in a Western Standard exclusive one year ago, a party insider said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney himself was on the hunt for a more amenable conservative mayoral candidate, who’s name was not Jeromy Farkas.

The usual Tory establishment voices pleading for “unity” and to not “split the vote” were seldom to be heard beseeching Davidson and Field to get behind Farkas.

The outsized role of union money in the campaign is curious, not so much because they tried (and succeeded) in buying a majority on council to sign their contracts, but because it was allowed to happen at all.

The Alberta UCP government introduced stiff new legislation curtailing the ability of unions to collect money from their members for use in political purposes without their direct consent. The legislation would require that unions bosses obtain the sign-off of individual union members to opt-in to using their dues for political activity, rather than just spending it without their consent, as is historically been the case.

Most curiously, Kenney never proclaimed the legislation into law, even though it has long passed all stages of the Legislative Assembly. The union bosses took note, and raised more money than ever for their candidates.

In the place of political parties running our civic elections, Calgarians have woken up to a council bought and paid for by the government unions.

Who’s to blame is a debate that needs to be had in earnest.

Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Manitoba cabinet ministers are maskless belles of the ball as pastor arrested

Is this like one of those cases where the criminal is crying to get caught?

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In a photo that surfaced on social media, Manitoba’s Health Minister Audrey Gordon looked lovely all dressed up for the ball. 

But something was missing in that photo snapped at Winnipeg Art Gallery’s annual fundraising gala held last weekend.

Pretty dress. Check! Earrings. Check! Big happy smile. Check! 

Hold on…big happy smile? Uh-oh. No mask.

Who was that other unmasked woman standing to her far right at the indoor public event? Why, it was none other than Minister of Families Rochelle Squires. 

And the other one? Minister of Sport, Culture, and Heritage Cathy Cox, also sans mask.

The damning photo outing them for violating a COVID mandate — masks must be worn at indoor public events — dictated by their PC party, was posted to Squires’ Instagram page. 

Is this like one of those cases where the criminal is crying to get caught?

Of course, after catching flak for the mask faux pas, the ministers were filled with remorse for violating one of the harsh mandates inflicted on other Manitobans, some of whom don’t get to go to work, never mind fancy balls.

Apparently, they were at the table, maybe munching on cake, when someone hollered something like “photo time.”

“I got up and joined the group in the photo, neglecting to wear my mask. It’s unfortunate and it was wrong, and it should not have happened and for that, I deeply apologize,” said Gordon. “I do believe as minister of health, I should be held to a higher standard, and I have always upheld that standard.”

Gordon said she’d “gladly” pay a fine should one be issued. 

Chances are zip of a motorcade of police and health officers showing up — like they do for other mandate violators — to hand the ministers hefty tickets.

The law’s too busy hunting down other delinquents. And they’ll be doing that for some time. It’s still too risky to wander around not wearing masks and such, says the province.

In fact, the gala barely wrapped up when Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin told Manitobans they’ll likely have to endure tough COVID-19 restrictions in place well into spring.

Hours later a Manitoba pastor was arrested for violation of health orders.

Tobias Tissen, minister at the Church of God Restoration in Steinbach, was picked up Monday night on an arrest warrant issued during the summer for defying health orders. 

“Tobias will be kept in custody overnight and is scheduled to appear before a magistrate tomorrow where he will most likely be asked to sign conditions to obtain his release,” it said on a Twitter account in his name.

Tissen and the church have been slapped with several fines for violating in-person gatherings.

If Tissen had just gone to the ball instead of standing in the pulpit trying to save souls, he wouldn’t have landed behind bars.

Meanwhile, the day before the ball Gordon met with health officials in the province’s southern region. They had to figure out a plan for looking after seniors at care homes in case of staff shortages when Monday’s vaccination deadline for frontline workers arrived. 

Whether Gordon wore a mask at the meeting remains unknown. 

Two personal care homes scrambled last week to alert families they might have to come in and care for their loved ones or take them home, as part of a worst-case scenario contingency plan when unvaccinated workers were shut out and suspended without pay.

Family members were told only days before they might be called upon to do laundry, brush teeth, feed, dress, and clean their elderly relatives in care at Salem Home in Winkler, and Taber Home in Morden.

Apparently staffing levels at these homes were fine the first day of the crackdown. Things may change when more unvaccinated workers can’t work shifts. 

However, the province said 30 health care workers were sent home for not being vaccinated and refusing to comply with COVID-19 testing. Expect that number to rise. More than 1,800 health workers have refused the jab based on religious, medical, or freedom of choice concerns.

No one should begrudge ministers Gordon, Squires and Cox for wanting to doll up and head out on the town. People need to have a little fun.

People need their jobs, too.

People need the right to freedom of choice. 

You don’t get to violate provincial orders when others are punished by being thrown in jail or forced to choose between a paycheck and being injected with a vaccine they oppose.

The ministers are really, very sorry for not wearing masks. They apologized. Their remorse is misplaced. Perhaps they should reflect more on the lives the province is callously messing with, instead of what they didn’t wear at the ball.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard
lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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